Nokia's Android phones are nothing like the Android you're used to

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BARCELONA—Imagine our surprise when, after months of chasing rumors, Nokia introduces not one, not two, but three different Android-powered devices.

Nokia’s X, X+, and XL phones hardly resemble the devices that Android users are typically used to. They don’t use any of Google’s backend services, like Google’s in-app purchasing mechanism or its Maps API, and the interface looks like Android received a Windows Phone makeover.

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It’s as if Windows Phone and Android had a baby.

Anything remotely Android-y is hidden beneath the interface, like the Settings menu, or the fact that the phones utilize a similar drop-down notifications shade. App developers can also port over their apps to Nokia’s specific Android ecosystem. Unlike BlackBerry’s crash-and-burn Android-porting strategy, the apps won’t be emulated—they’re specifically coded to work with Nokia’s particular Android devices.

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The Settings menu is evidence that this device is built on AOSP.

Instead of a Android’s usual task switcher, the Nokia X Software Platform (which is built on Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean) implements a feature called Fastlane. Fastlane remembers all of your recent activity, including text messages and the last song you played. It also displays notifications.

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See your recent app activity with Fastlane.

The Home screen mostly resembles something you’d find on a Windows Phone. There are faux Live Tiles that you can expand and move around. You can also create folders for a group of apps and pin various widgets to the home screen. Interestingly, you can see in the photo below that Google’s calendar widget is a part of the available selection.

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Widgets are a thing on Nokia’s X phones.

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But Nokia made sure to add in a little bit of Windows Phone flavor in there, too.

The Lock Screen uses a badge to display notifications at the bottom of the screen. To unlock, you can slide over to get to the last app you were using. If you weren’t actively in an app, it’ll then default to the Home screen.

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A new take on slide to unlock.

As an added bonus, you can sideload your favorite Android apps by plugging in a microSD card and using the pre-loaded ASTRO File Manager app to launch an APK. Nokia will also load its X phones with the Yandex app store in Russia and 1Mobile in China, as well as two browsers: Nokia’s own browser and Opera Mobile.

On the hardware side, the Nokia X and X+ look mostly the same, except that the latter comes equipped with a bit more RAM. The XL is an inch bigger than its two siblings for those who want a bigger screen.

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The Nokia XL is big, but not too big.

Nokia has always had a particular penchant for design and its trio of X phones are no different. They’re cute, stylish, and comfortable to hold; they feel more durable than other phones with plastic chassis. The X and X+ also fit perfectly in the palm of my hand.

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Cupping the Nokia X.

In terms of performance, I can equate my short time with the Nokia X to a mid- or low-end Android phone with antiquated components. But what’s important to note is that Nokia isn’t attempting to focus the spotlight on the hardware fueling its devices, but rather the fact that it’s giving Android developers total access to its loyal fan base of users. 

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